Rape and Domestic Violence: The criminal code criminalizes rape, including spousal rape. The code states that a person convicted of rape or marital rape shall be sentenced to imprisonment of eight years to life, although in practice sentences were sometimes much lighter. Generally, challenges to the wider justice system resulted in poor conviction rates for rape offenses. A number of cases resulted in acquittals or discontinuance because the accusing party dropped the charges or refused to testify at trial (see section 1.e., Trial Procedures). In many instances the failure to proceed with a case was caused by the victim’s fear for personal safety. The BPD reported that incidences of rape increased to 27 cases while the number of arrests decreased to 14 during the year, compared with 21 cases reported and 16 arrests in 2010. Underreporting of rape was likely due to perceived inefficiencies in the police and judicial systems as well as fear of further violence, retribution, and social stigma.
Domestic violence is frequently prosecuted with charges such as “harm,” “wounding,” “grievous harm,” rape, and marital rape. Police, prosecutors, and judges recognize both physical violence and mental injury. Penalties include fines or imprisonment for violations; the level of fine or length of sentence depends on the crime. The law empowers the Family Court to issue protection orders against accused offenders. Persons who may apply for protection orders against domestic violence include de facto spouses or persons in visiting relations. Protection orders may remain in place for up to three years and may include a requirement for child maintenance where applicable.
The Women’s Department continued its program of “gender sensitization,” as well as its campaign against gender-based and domestic violence. The department also continued a batterers’ intervention and prevention program for men who are abusive to women. It received referrals from both the criminal and civil courts.
In August the Women’s Department, Ministry of Health, and Pan American Health Organization hosted a national consultation workshop to evaluate the system in which service providers identify and refer victims and record and report cases of gender-based violence.
During the year a male police officer from the Domestic Violence Unit of the Police Department undertook training in Canada with support of the Women’s Department.
Despite these efforts domestic violence against women remained a significant problem; information regarding the number of cases during the year was not available. Domestic violence likely was most prevalent in the Belize District, which includes Belize City. There were two women’s shelters in the country (with a total of 18 beds) that offered short-term housing.
Although sexual harassment legislation exists, the legal framework remained unchanged and, according to the Women’s Department, was largely ineffective, since the fear of dismissal without compensation remained a major deterrence to filing complaints.
In January an assistant commissioner of police was investigated for sexually assaulting a female officer. The officer ranked third in command at the Belize Police Department and had served for 26 years. The PSB investigated the case before transferring it to the Director of Public Prosecution. At year’s end the case was concluded as the complainant requested no further action.
In July police began an investigation of a police constable who was suspected of “carnal knowledge” (statutory rape) of a 13-year-old girl who subsequently became pregnant.
On December 21, the media reported that Supreme Court Justice Denis Hanomansingh ruled that a 36-year-old man accused of “carnal knowledge” of a 14-year-old girl must marry the girl to receive bail.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children, and they had the information and means to do so free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. Programs undertaken by the Ministry of Health and the Belize Family Life Association provided information and access to family planning and reproductive health services; skilled personnel attended 95 percent of births. Contraceptive use for married women was estimated to be 34 percent.
Discrimination: Despite legal provisions for gender equality, the media continued to report that women faced social and economic discrimination. The Labour (Amendment) Act, 2011, was enacted during the year. The act provides generally for the continuity of employment and protection against unfair dismissal, including for sexual harassment in the work place or by the employer or another employee. It also addresses procedures for the termination of contract and establishes a labor complaints tribunal.
There were no legal impediments to women owning or managing land or other real property. Despite participating in all spheres of national life, women held relatively few top managerial positions. Although the law mandates equal pay for equal work, women earned 45 percent less than men did for similar or equal work and experienced a more rapidly increasing unemployment rate than men. Fifty percent of women participated in the labor force, compared with 83 percent of men.
The Women’s Department under the Ministry of Human Development and Social Transformation is responsible for programs to improve the status of women. A number of NGOs focused on women’s issues also worked closely with various government ministries to promote social awareness programs relating to gender equality.